Johannesburg — It is true that things seemingly fell apart for the Lions last year during a horrible period in which the team from Johannesburg couldn’t buy a win — big or small.
The 2021 Currie Cup campaign was a disaster, while the Rainbow Cup prior wasn’t much better — the Lions underperforming badly in both competitions. Serious introspection was therefore required and rumours subsequently abound that head coach Ivan van Rooyen was in the firing line.
The union decided that although change was required, a knee-jerk reaction was not and instead of purging their management team they opted to strengthen it. The Lions, therefore, introduced Springboks Jaque Fourie (defence), Ricardo Loubscher (backline, attack and skills) and Albert van den Berg (forwards and line-outs) to the management structure; and Emirates Lions centre Wandisile Simelane had much praise for the trio while speaking to Independent Media on Wednesday.
“Jaque is a great rugby player and a better human being and he is definitely teaching me a lot, as he is teaching the team a lot,” Simelane revealed.
“The amount of belief and trust he instils is truly amazing. Sometimes, just having him around in the room, feeding off his energy, helps us a lot. The new coaching staff have just been brilliant in installing new beliefs, new methods and a new style of play. It is refreshing. We came from a horrible year (in 2021) and hopefully now we just get things right and turn this ship around.
“Ricardo is just as great.
"With Ricardo, with Albert, with Jaque and with Cash, who has been around through everything, we have a good balance in our coaching staff. The energy which they bring filters down to the playing group and everyone else.
“We really feed off each other’s energy well — the playing group, the senior players and the coaching staff. You can definitely feel the positive effect that they have had.”
While not giving too much away, regarding the team’s tactics and gameplan for the Bulls on Saturday (kick-off 3pm) at Emirates Airline Park in a United Rugby Championship encounter, Simelane did offer a glimpse into the new philosophy of this management group.
“With the new coaching staff that we have, we’ve tried to forget about the past,” the 23-year-old said.
“We are thinking about the future and trying new ways of doing things better. It helps that the new coaching staff brought a new way of thinking, a new way of doing things and a new approach to our game. It helps a lot to forget what has happened in the past and certainly focus on the future.”
Meanwhile, the impact that the new coaching structure has had on the Lions, seems to have enduced a ripple effect noticed by the other franchises. On Wednesday, Bulls prop Jacques van Rooyen noted as much ahead of this weekend's clash.
"Since I have been at the Bulls," said Van Rooyen, "we haven’t had one easy game at (Emiratews Airline Park). "It has been a tough ground for us to go play at.
"Obviously, its due to the style they play, the speed they want to play at. The new coaches that they brought in now started with the URC, and you can see that they are a lot more aggressive on defence, so we know that is coming.
"They are organised on defence as well, while their forwards play has improved a lot. We know we have got our work cut out for us on the weekend."
Read more of Independent Media's interview with Wandisile Simelane in Thursday's edition of The Star.